Update 3/27/19: Gov. Kim Reynolds signed SF 274 into law, which recently passed the Iowa Legislature with bipartisan support. The bill strengthens protections for the freedom of speech and expression at Iowa’s public universities and community colleges. The law goes into effect immediately.

“I am proud to sign this legislation into law which protects free speech on college campuses,” Reynolds said. “Our public universities and community colleges should always be places where ideas can be debated, built upon, and creative thoughts flourish without limits.”

Update 3/14/19: The Iowa House by unanimous consent replaced the House version (HF 661) of the campus free speech bill with the Senate version that passed on Monday. The House passed the bill by a 52 to 44 vote. The bill heads to Governor Kim Reynolds’ desk.

Original 3/12/19: On Monday afternoon, the Iowa Senate passed a bill 35 to 11 that would protect free speech at Iowa’s Regent Universities and community colleges.

SF 274 directs the Iowa Board of Regents and board of directors at each of Iowa’s community colleges to adopt the following statements:

  • That to fulfill the higher education institution’s mission it must allow the “the fullest degree of intellectual freedom and free expression allowed under the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
  • That it is not the institution’s role to protect individuals from speech protected by the First Amendment which may include “ideas and opinions the individual finds unwelcome, disagreeable, or even offensive.”
  • That the role of the institution is to “encourage diversity of thoughts, ideas, and opinions and to encourage, within the bounds of the (F)irst Amendment.”
  • “That students and faculty have the freedom to discuss any problem that presents itself, assemble, and engage in spontaneous expressive activity on campus” within the bounds of the First Amendment and subject to reasonable restrictions on the manner, time, and space within the principles of the First Amendment.
  • “That the outdoor areas of campus of an institution of higher education are public forums, open on the same terms to any invited speaker subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions that are consistent with established principles of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

The bill also makes clear that the members of the campus also have the right to protest, assemble, hold rallies with invited speakers, distribute literature, circulate petitions, publish articles, publish or live stream audio or video “in outdoor areas of campus.”

The bill states any member of the campus may engage in activity provided it “is not unlawful, does not impede others’ access to a facility or use of walkways, and does not disrupt the functioning of the public institution of higher education.”

The bill in an earlier subsection stated that “materially and substantially disrupt” does not mean activity protected by the First Amendment including protests and counter-protests.

The bill also states that institutions may designate other areas for use by the campus community beyond outdoor areas according to their institutional policy, but if they do access “must be granted on a viewpoint-neutral basis within the bounds of established first amendment principles.”

The bill also addressed student organizations, responding to problems at the University of Iowa. The University of Iowa lost one lawsuit for viewpoint discrimination and has another lawsuit pending when they kicked several faith-based organizations off campus.

Business Leaders in Christ was kicked off campus because they do not allow leaders who do not agree with their statement of faith, including what it says about sexual ethics, blocking LGBT students from leadership as a result. The University of Iowa deregistered InterVarsity Graduate Christian Fellowship because they also expect their leaders to agree with the organization’s statement of faith.

If passed the bill would prohibit viewpoint discrimination towards student organization and prohibits institutions from punishing organizations who expect their leaders to abide by what the organization believes.

Opposition to the bill voiced by State Senator Zach Wahls (D-Coralville) centered around the protection of student groups who said the bill would create a loophole that could lead to the discrimination of marginalized groups. He offered an amendment striking that section from the bill.

“While I understand your concerns about the possibility of discrimination, frankly I am more concerned about the attacks on students’ First Amendment rights of speech and assembly,” State Senator Amy Sinclair (R-Allerton), the floor manager of the bill, said in response to his remarks during floor debate.

She added that student groups should not have to “give the state the power to favor some viewpoints over others.”

She stated that religious students have the right to organize groups and have access to campus resources just like any other group on campus. “As a matter of practical necessity, this must include the right to have leaders who support the goals of the club, the club’s mission.”

Wahls’ amendment lost 30 to 16.

SF 274 also deems all outside areas on campus (with a few exceptions) a public forum and forbids institutions from establishing “free speech zones” or other policies that would restrict First Amendment activities to a particular area of campus.

Five Democrats joined with 30 Republicans voting in favor of the bill. State Senators Tony Bisignano (D-Des Moines), Kevin Kinney (D-Oxford), Jim Lykam (D-Davenport), Herman Quirmbach (D-Ames), and Rich Taylor (D-Mt. Pleasant) joined the bipartisan majority in favor of protecting free speech on campus.

State Senators Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City), Nate Boulton (D-Des Moines), Claire Celsi (D-West Des Moines), Robert Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids), William Dotzler (D-Waterloo), Pam Jochum (D-Dubuque), Liz Mathis (D-Hiawatha), Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines), Amanda Ragan (D-Mason City), Todd Taylor (D-Cedar Rapids), and Wahls voted against.

Photo Credit: Iowa Public Radio Images (CC-By-ND 2.0)

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